Story by Ammie Bryant, Editor. Historical photos provided by Fenton Office Mart.
September in Stillwater means settling back into the school routine. It also means getting back to business as Stillwater’s streets once again become overrun by traffic, long lines cramp the grocery store aisles, and seating wait times stretch well beyond twenty minutes at our favorite restaurants. Another Stillwater summer has come and gone and it’s back to the business of the bustling (and friendly!) college town that we love.
For the Fenton Office Mart family, one of the busiest times of year is actually during the summer time when things tend to slow down for the rest of our town. “We’ve always counted the inventory at the end of July,” said Suzanne Carpenter. “Dad chose that as the time because the summers were slow when it was a gift store, now it’s our busiest time because schools and many other businesses do their ordering for new furnishings then.”
Suzanne has a lot of experience counting the inventory each year. Ever since she was old enough to count pencils she has helped with the inventory–almost as long as the store has been open. She was born just three years before her parents, Dale and Margueritte Fenton, opened the store as a small gift and office supply store in 1941.
Dale Fenton attended OAMC to study accounting in the early 1930s and went on to become OAMC President Henry Garland Bennett’s secretary. Fenton dreamed of owning his own business, though, so he started an office supply store. Suzanne remembers her dad saying, “People will always need office supplies.”
Dale and his wife opened Peerless Office Supply in a small section of another business located at 711 S. Main, next door to Woolworths. They called it Peerless because that was the name of their paper supplier. As the business grew, Dale and Margueritte moved their location to 809 S. Main. The name had changed by then and they sold gifts as well as office supplies. The Fentons rented out a small quarter section of their new location to a shoe guy. “That’s what you did back then, if you had any extra space, you sub-leased it out for smaller businesses,” explained Suzanne.
The business didn’t move to its current location on McElroy until 1978 after Suzanne and her husband Jerry Carpenter took over running it. Previously, the location had housed the only grocery store on the campus-side of town, M&W Food Store. The new location was much larger and allowed for the display and sale of an expanded office furniture inventory.
In the early days, Dale Fenton laid the foundation for how the business would be run for the next seventy-five years with an emphasis on building relationships and serving the community. He believed that these relationships and the service he provided would set him apart from other suppliers. Part of that service included delivering supplies to his customers.
Dale purchased a scooter to make deliveries during World War II when gas was rationed. Suzanne fondly remembers riding the scooter into town from their home with her dad and mom. Dale had a bin on the back to hold supplies which he covered with a board for Margueritte to sit on. Suzanne stood on the running board in front of her Dale and held onto the handle bars. Back then “home” was located on 6th between Hester and Ramsey Streets. Suzanne still remembers the sounds of trucks driving by their house at night, when she left her bedroom window open.
Like her dad, Suzanne attended OSU. Then in 1961, she married Jerry Carpenter and they moved to Denver where he worked for an office supply wholesaler. In 1967, they moved back to Stillwater to buy into the business. Initially, only Jerry was involved, but around 1980 he asked Suzanne to come see what the secretary did at the store. After that, Suzanne started helping with the bookkeeping.
Jerry recognized how important it was to continue what Dale had begun by offering personalized service. Like his father-in-law, he also understood the importance of investing in employees, many of whom were students, to make an impact on their lives.
Fenton Office Mart is built on the foundation of multi-generational leadership. “At Fenton’s, we’re family,” said Terry Carpenter, one of Suzanne and Jerry’s three kids. Terry is the third generation of the family to run the business, continuing his grandfather’s and father’s legacy of community service.
Like his mother and grandparents before him, Terry attended OSU. He graduated in 1984 and moved to Tulsa for a while. Then he came back with his wife, Pam, to help run the store during the summer of 1993–just in time to help with counting the inventory. Terry and Pam chose to come back to Stillwater for the support and family atmosphere of Fenton Office Mart and the Stillwater community.
Today, Pam is also involved in running the business. She began helping with the accounting in 2008, eventually taking over from her mother-in-law. Suzanne still helps out–she remains the matriarch of the extended Fenton family, which encompasses its customers and employees.
Suzanne and Terry see Fenton’s mission as serving “as a ministry that impacts employees, customers, and vendors in a positive way.” Terry explained, “It’s not just about the dollars, it’s about the relationships and taking a personal interest in our employees, customers, and their families.” Many current employees have been with the business for more than twenty years. Previously, there have been a few who had been with Fenton Office Mart for nearly forty years.
Terry likes to share the pictures of his grandparents working together in the first store as well as the first three cancelled checks written by his grandfather, Dale. “We keep the pictures to remind us of the roots of Fenton’s. The roots, the beginnings are very important to us. As a reminder of how it began,” said Terry.